Saturday, March 18, 2017

Critical Thinking and the Crisis of Credibility

On numerous occasions I have raised the alarm through posts that students in educational institutions are being taught "what to think instead of how to think". As a result of this entrenched attitude within education systems, education has become less about effective, authentic learning and more about indoctrination of views held on a variety of topics that favour only one side of topics and dismiss other points of view without considering the evidential merit of these points of view. We see the fruit of this on many university campuses where even speakers holding alternative points of view are denied access to campuses or if given access, their presentations are harassed by those with opposing points of view. A case in point here in Ontario, Canada is the case of Professor Jordan Peterson, who is a University of Ontario Psychology professor who is due to speak to a sold out crowd at the University of Western Ontario in London.


 Due to the fact that Professor Peterson does not agree with the use of gender neutral pronouns in his classroom and openly criticizes the rise of political correctness on university campuses, the university is charging the student group who invited him to speak a $1200 fee to cover security which is not something they do in an equitable fashion when dealing with speakers invited to speak. Professor Peterson has made his views known on YouTube and is open to rational discussion on his views.

Credit: www.the College

As a result of this retreat away from rational thought and discussion, societies are experiencing what I would term a " crisis of credibility". A crisis of credibility occurs when foundational systems such as education systems, religious systems, law systems, and systems of labour which were the bedrock institutions originally designed to serve the people, lose the confidence of the people they were mandated to serve. The obvious question then becomes:

"What are the causes of this crisis of credibility?"

Some of the causes that can be identified, as relating to education, the family and society in general might be the following:

  • The increase in priority of asking learners how they "feel" about topics instead of educating them in the skills of thinking about topics, being able to state what position they hold on issues based upon authenticated and verifiable evidence. Learners are repeatedly exposed to a variety of social issues in our societies without being given the necessary thinking skillsets needed to form informed opinions. This happens at the earliest level of education when students have only rudimentary thinking skills but are requested to take stands on social issues. A good example is the issue of bullying. Young people are taught to use emotionally laden terms and  take specific actions but are never clearly given the root causes to the issue for them to have a complete picture.

Credit: Robert John Meehan

Without this, they learn that feelings are what you should base your decisions on and therefore your actions. Anyone who has an opposing opinion, you should not have to listen to and to protect yourself, we have a vocabulary built up to dismiss them altogether thus freeing you from being upset. Please clear on this! I am not saying that feelings are not important because they are and we all have them. I am saying that it is wrong if they take the place of reason altogether.
  • Moral relativism has been a destructive influence on our understanding of the difference between  what should be considered morally "right" behaviour and what should be considered morally "wrong" behaviour in our societies. The end result of this is societies coming to the conclusion that there is no " right" or "wrong" behaviour. A case in point on this is the declaration of cities and states to be "sanctuary cities". Simply put the rationale, based upon "feelings" is that it is o.k. for illegal immigrants to break our laws and by declaring our city or state to be a "sanctuary place", we the guardians of the rule of law are going to help them do it and we are going to feel good about ourselves for doing it. Such acts lead to a very disturbing question:

"If elected officials who were elected to uphold the rule of law in government, encourage the breaking of our laws and abrogate the processes designed to maintain stability of law enforcement and protect the constitutional rights of all citizens then how can we in good conscience hold citizens accountable for the breaking of other laws?"

Stopping a False Paradigm

One of the first steps that we need to take in education is to stop promoting a false paradigm that is relegating reasoning to a frill topic in schools. In the past, the paradigm that has allowed our civilizations to advance may have looked like this:

Important issue---->identify all sides to the issue---->examine the evidence supporting each side carefully through effective research---->take a position on the issue---->defend your position passionately through effective debate

We may have been inspired by an issue that truly moved us and consider an important issue or the events of the day required that we investigate due to a possibly negative impact on our lives. So, although "feelings" may have started us to take action, we followed a paradigm of necessary investigation based upon reason.

So, what has changed?

New Paradigm: 

Important issue----->only one side of the issue presented for acceptance-------> use of selected emotional multimedia assets are used to suggest how you should feel about the issue----> based upon your feelings, put pressure on others who do not share your viewpoint through the use of dismissive vocabulary that uses ad hominem argumentation as a tool to censor debate------> engage in forcing the point of view into enforceable laws upon all people.

The end result of this new paradigm which we even now see being played out in the current events and in social media circles is the systematic sabotage of the great gift that we all have for critical thinking.

So, how do we stop this type of paradigm from continuing to wreak havoc on the intelligence of learners?

The Systematic Re-Integration of Critical Thinking Skills

We can not as civilized societies remain civilized as long as we allow this paradigm to be constantly reinforced throughout all levels of the education systems and the curriculums that they subscribe to. As thinking individuals, we hold that the following truths should be available to all citizens with the understanding that the goal is to strive to help improve the quality of life for all people.

  • Critical thinking skillsets are not frills but as essential for our survival as civilized societies who have to deal with complex real world problems in effective ways that bring solutions that benefit all people. We have already identified what comprises such skillsets:

  • Every citizen is entitled to hold an opinion and have the right to express the opinion giving supporting evidence that can be verified. If I disagree with the opinion, I have the right and obligation by means of providing evidence that disapproves that opinion, to act responsibly.

  • When I hear an opposing opinion and am tempted to use popular dismissive vocabulary terms, I have a responsibility to clearly define those terms. I have an obligation that if others question the validity of my definition to listen to their objections and answer their challenges.

  • I have to accept the possibility that I just might be wrong if the evidence supports that I am in error even if it might hurt my feelings.

E-Learning: The Potential and the Danger

One question that may have occurred to you is:

"What does any of this have to do with e-Learning?"

One of the great advantages to e-Learning is that it is no longer dependent upon local constraints but instead has a global reach. The problem of the disassembling of a paradigm that has served civilizations well in favour of the false paradigm noted above is not just a North American problem. It is evident in the education systems of many countries on a global scale that this problem is pervasive. We see in in discussions in global politics and even as far as organized sports among countries.

The time to stop this paradigm is now so that your children and their children will enjoy a quality of life that puts the needs of others above self-entitlement but even more importantly, that the decisions they make and defend passionately, are based on the building blocks of sound reasoning. 

Together, we can overcome the great crisis of credibility that we now face. We must overcome it....

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